Experts Agree — This Is How Often You Should Run to Lose Weight

As a form of cardio, running can be a valuable tool on your weight-loss journey. How much you run and the types of runs matter, so if you're looking for how often to run to get lean and lose fat, the answer is a little complicated — all the experts agree that it depends, starting at a couple times a week to more often as you progress. Read ahead to see how the experts we talked to broke it down and what you need to know about running and weight loss.

How Often Should You Run to Lose Weight?
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How Often Should You Run to Lose Weight?

If you're just starting out, Alex Harrison, PhD, CSCS, who's also a level three USA Track and Field coach, recommends running twice a week, gradually building up to four times a week over the course of five weeks to avoid injury.

ACE-certified personal trainer Rachel MacPherson said to begin with 20- to 30-minute runs at a comfortable pace every other day. As you're ready, Jeff Godin, CSCS, head of fitness education at Spartan Race, Inc., said to aim for 45- to 60-minute sessions; you don't have to run straight for the entire workout. "Break the run up into small digestible pieces," Godin said. Run for one minute, walk for two, and gradually build up.

ACE-certified trainer Amanda Brooks added that "20 to 30 miles per week is plenty for someone looking to lose weight and improve overall health." Remember that doesn't need to be all from running. All those extra steps add up, so make sure to include daily walks, aiming for at least 10,000 steps a day.

What Type of Runs Are Best For Weight Loss?
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What Type of Runs Are Best For Weight Loss?

Should you do long runs, short runs, slow runs, or fast runs for the greatest weight-loss results? Matt Kite, CSCS, with D1 Training, explained that long-distance running isn't that great for losing weight, but it's excellent for maintaining it. What's best for weight loss are short, faster-paced runs.

This means instead of keeping a steady pace, add in sprint intervals and hills. These HIIT-style workouts are not only more effective, but they'll also save you time. "You can work through a you'll-be-sore-tomorrow HIIT session in 45 minutes or less if you're efficient," Kite said. He agreed that a few times a week, while eating a well-rounded diet in a healthy calorie deficit, will allow you to see results.

The biggest benefit of HIIT training is the afterburn effect, where your body continues to burn calories after your workout is over, Kite explained. "The fluctuation of your heart rate throughout a HIIT workout, switching between rest and active states, leaves you with an oxygen debt of sorts, resulting in your body burning extra calories to return to its resting state."

If you can't do fast-paced intervals for any reason, instead of running for a long time at a slower pace, Kite recommends walking at a high pace instead, because it's easier on the knees. Try this 25-minute walking treadmill workout.

You Can't Outrun a Bad Diet
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You Can't Outrun a Bad Diet

Running by itself doesn't make people lose weight; creating a caloric deficit does, Dr. Harrison explained. "If you use running as part of the equation to do that, you can very roughly figure that each mile you run burns about 100 calories." Mathematically speaking, in order to create a caloric deficit to equate to one pound of fat loss per week (one pound equals 3,500 calories), you'd have to run about 25 to 40 miles per week — that's a lot of miles! So the best thing to do is create a daily 500-calorie deficit with a combination of exercise and diet.

Be aware that running can increase hunger, so if you eat in a calorie surplus, you will gain weight. "The bottom line in achieving weight loss is that you need to burn more calories than you take in," explained ACE-certified personal trainer Sabrina Correia of My House Fitness.

Although exercise plays a huge role in weight loss, you cannot out-exercise a diet that is full of processed, nutrition-void foods, reminded registered dietitian Emily Tills, MS, CDN. In order to lose weight sustainably, Tills recommends eating a balanced diet, which can support weight loss and maintenance. Aim to get all three macros — protein, carbs, and healthy fats — at each meal. Focus on whole, unprocessed foods, including fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and whole grans. If you need some inspo, check out this two-week clean-eating plan. To find an exact eating plan that works for you, including how many calories to eat in a day, we recommend speaking with a registered dietitian.

Just Running Isn't Best For Weight Loss — Why Strength Training Is a Must
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Just Running Isn't Best For Weight Loss — Why Strength Training Is a Must

"If your runs are being combined with other workouts like strength training, the results will come faster and often could mean you can get by with running fewer miles," Brooks said.

"The best way to lose body fat is by focusing on nutrition while implementing a workout combo of lifting and cardio," said USA Track and Field-certified coach Mary Johnson. Aim to include at least three strength-training sessions per week for weight loss, recommended NASM-certified trainer Tamara Pridgett.

"Although strength training is not necessarily going to burn more calories than running for the same amount of time," Correia explained in a previous interview, it will improve your overall fitness level. And because having more muscle mass burns more calories at rest than fat, combined with running, strength training will allow you to see faster weight-loss results.

Since strength training will make you gain muscle, keep in mind that the numbers may not move or may increase. It's all good; you're still losing fat, so focus on other nonscale methods of measuring your progress, like taking progress pictures or taking body measurements.